Advisory referendum seeks roads power shift to Northfield township trustees
Highway Commissioner Peter Amarantos (right) and Emergency Management Services Director Robert Dunne inspect some of the snow plows at the Northfield Township Highway Department. | Geoff Scheerer~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 15, 2013 2:26PM
GLENVIEW — Northfield Township trustees want stronger authority over the township’s Road District and will ask voters to give them such control in an April ballot question.
The proposed power shift targets Highway Department Commissioner Peter Amarantos who manages his own budget, hiring and tax levy without trustee input.
The Highway Department serves Northfield, Glenview and Northbrook.
“Our highway commissioner is the only elected official who does not answer to a board of trustees,” said Township Trustee Carol Blustein.
“It’s important to understand the township recognizes that the unincorporated areas have needs for services for roads, parkways and infrastructure,” she said.
“But the board believes everyone in the township pays for the 19 miles of road, and we believe better oversight is needed.”
The April 9 advisory referendum question is “Shall the Northfield Township Board seek to abolish the Township Road District with all the rights, powers, duties, assets, property, liabilities, obligations, and responsibilities being assumed by the Township of Northfield?”
For $60,000 a year, in 2010 Amarantos hired Robert Dunne, a former Northfield township trustee who was defeated in the 2009 election, as director of Emergency Services and disaster management, according to township financial records.
Back then, trustees believed the hiring was political because Amarantos and Dunne were members of the Northfield Township Republican Organization.
Trustees also said the job was not properly posted.
Amarantos said the job was on the Road District’s Web site and in its office garage at 1928 Lehigh Ave., Glenview.
Yet, Blustein said the three municipalities, Cook County, the state of Illinois and Federal Emergency Management Agency, already have emergency response systems in place.
“If there was a need for an emergency director, (Amarantos) could have brought it to us and discussed the needs. Also, the job should have been posted to get the best person and instead of hiring a former Republican trustee,” Blustein said.
Amarantos said Dunne has performed well in planning virtual training exercises in emergency management, participating in regional emergency committees and worked toward ending flooding on Central Avenue in Glenview.
“These trustees don’t have a vision. If they think bringing (Dunn) on was a mistake, they don’t know what emergency management really is,” said Amarantos, Road District commissioner for 20 years.
Blustein also said Amarantos has not spent $425,00 of budgeted funds since 2009 for building additions to the district garage and his office.
However, Amarantos said the unspent funds were for unpredictable expenditures related to weather, road salt, gasoline for road trucks and flooding.
“I have to make sure we have enough money in case something happens. My budget is always balanced and there’s no debt.
Trustee Mary Reynolds said the township road districts maybe needed in rural Illinois, but not in the Chicago suburbs.
“I see our Road District as an anachronism. A lot of townships around us don’t exist anymore,” she said, adding trustees participating in the district’s budgeting process was a formality.
“Technically we can’t make changes on any line items. That’s not real oversight,” she said.
Amarantos said, “We’re not here to cheat anybody. People living in the unincorporated parts will defend us.”
In the upcoming election, Carol Blustein is vying for supervisor; Dan Frey, highway commissioner; Karen McCormack, clerk and Joanne Licht, Marla Miller, Richard Mullen and Mary Reynolds for trustees.
Incumbent Jill Brickman is running for supervisor and Patricia Leckner for clerk, while no one is challenging incumbent Patricia Damisch for township assessor.
The Republican trustee slate is James Pieczonka, Melanie Peterson, John Birkinbine and Brendan Appel.